The Fate of Bang Pakong under EEC: from Greenery to Industry

Author: Pichitsak Kaennakam, Voice TV reporter

 

บางปะกง
Local farmers are catching fish from the pond at the proposed site of ‘BlueTech City’ industrial park in Bang Pakong District, Chachoengsao

 

The future of Bang Pakong livelihoods and their food security are being invaded by the power of capitals through measures that ignore people’s participation.

The sign prohibiting entry belongs to an industrial company who fenced off and declared its rights on the 3,000 Rai of land in Khaodin subdistrict, Bang Pakong District, Chachoengsao province. This province, along with Chonburi and Rayong, is part of the Eastern Economic Corridor or EEC, a special economic development zone of the Eastern region of Thailand comprising variety of industrial development projects. EEC has been touted as an engine of national economic growth by the previous NCPO government and continue by the current Prayuth government.

This particular plot of land is destined for an industrial project called ‘BlueTech City’. The buy-up of lands began in 2018. Land ownerships changed hands from former landlords to wealthy investors. Starting with 10 Rai, the plot has now expanded to 3,000 Rai* (1,186 Acres).

“The landlords, they never informed us beforehand. We had come to know about it when they already sold the lands that we’ve been leasing from them for generations.” recalled Naree Sornprasit, a farmer whose ancestors have been farming on this land for over seven decades. Her family’s livelihood depends on a 74 Rai (29 Acre) of land under a lease agreement.

living in another province, both provinces are part of the EEC scheme. Tawit insists that he become active not for his personal benefit but for the common’s benefits; especially to protect the homeland for future generations. Losing cultivation land is a major threat to communities around here because many of them are living and farming on leased lands.

There are constraints on this struggle. He pointed to the risk that private investors may challenge communities in court. Thus they shifted their strategy and now resort to parliamentarian mechanism. So far, they have filed a petition to a parliament committee, appealing for the committee’s investigation into their case, and requested that local communities should be included in the process so that they can genuinely voice their concerns.

 

Livelihoods overshadowed by industrial development

The abundant ecosystem allows Khaodin community to feed their families off the land all year round. The main cultivation here is rice farming. In the season when they don’t grow rice, the fields are converted to fishponds where many types of fish can be cultivated — the locals call these fish “Pla-Pi” literally translate to ‘annual fish’. Catching and selling fish has been one of the main sources of income for this community for many generations. The commonly found three-spotted tilapia can be sold to the middlemen at 20THB/Kg; for the average size of 3-5 fish per 1 Kg. That’s the local economy which sustains the community.

The locals’ discontent is still apparent. Officially, construction of the industrial project cannot yet begin (pending EIA approval); however, locals say there are already some activities in the estate. They are also worried about the EEC’s land use plan (approved by the cabinet in November 2019) which covers 8,291,250 Rais (approx 3.27 million Acres) of land in the three provinces of Chonburi,

She said there was no reconciliation process, neither from the former landlords nor the wealthy new owner. At least 43 households are affected by this project; They are at risk of losing their farm lands and homes when the state-backed development projects are incompatible with the local’s livelihoods.

EEC
The signpost warning agaist unauthorised intrusion is installed in front of the proposed site of a new industrial estate in Chachoengsao.

No place for their voices

Although there was an official public-hearing forum organized by the private project developer, not everyone’s voices are valued.

“They barred us from attending the forum; they were afraid we would organize a protest.”

On Naree’s account, this means denying the rights of people who actually live there. Local authorities who take sides with the private investors were face-scanning people coming for the forum; those who could enter were organized groups of the project’s supporters.

 

“We now resort to parliamentarian mechanism”

Tawit Pokkrong is a resident of Bang Huk subdistrict, Parnthong district, Chonburi province. He is an ally of Bang Pakong people in fighting against the capital takeover of local’s lands. Although living in another province, both provinces are part of the EEC scheme. Tawit insists that he become active not for his personal benefit but for the common’s benefits; especially to protect the homeland for future generations. Losing cultivation land is a major threat to communities around here because many of them are living and farming on leased lands.

There are constraints on this struggle. He pointed to the risk that private investors may challenge communities in court. Thus they shifted their strategy and now resort to parliamentarian mechanism. So far, they have filed a petition to a parliament committee, appealing for the committee’s investigation into their case, and requested that local communities should be included in the process so that they can genuinely voice their concerns.

 

Livelihoods overshadowed by industrial development

The abundant ecosystem allows Khaodin community to feed their families off the land all year round. The main cultivation here is rice farming. In the season when they don’t grow rice, the fields are converted to fishponds where many types of fish can be cultivated — the locals call these fish “Pla-Pi” literally translate to ‘annual fish’. Catching and selling fish has been one of the main sources of income for this community for many generations. The commonly found three-spotted tilapia can be sold to the middlemen at 20THB/Kg; for the average size of 3-5 fish per 1 Kg. That’s the local economy which sustains the community.

The locals’ discontent is still apparent. Officially, construction of the industrial project cannot yet begin (pending EIA approval); however, locals say there are already some activities in the estate. They are also worried about the EEC’s land use plan (approved by the cabinet in November 2019) which covers 8,291,250 Rais (approx 3.27 million Acres) of land in the three provinces of Chonburi, Rayong, and Chachoengsao. The plan would pave way to rezoning of land use in the three provinces which means green zones for agricultural activities could be changed to purple zones for industrial activities. Livelihoods of the people will be turned upside down with at least 18 new industrial estates planned under EEC in the three provinces (3 projects in Chachoengsao, 6 projects in Chonburi, and 4 projects in Rayong).

 

The government’s EEC land use plan can be grouped into four types as follow:

  1. Urban and Community Development Zone: total 1.096 million Rai (+3.37%) accounting for 13.23% of the whole area. There are 4 subcategories: Commercial Areas (red) 96,795 Rai (+0.31%); Urban Community Areas (orange) 981,974 Rai (+6.25%); Areas Supporting Urban Development (orange with white dots) 463,666 Rai; Special Promotion Zone for Special Businesses (brown) 18,210 Rai.
  2. Industrial Development Zone: total 424,854 Rai (+1.99%) accounting for 5.12% of the whole area. The industrial zone will be organized in clusters for better control and management. Industrial areas should keep distance of at least 1 kilometers from forest lands and 500 meters from rivers, canals, and coast. There are 2 subcategories: Special Economic Promotion Zone for Special Targeted Industries (purple) in 23 locations, all together 90,010 Rai; Industrial Development Areas (purple with white dots) 334,000 Rai.
  3. Rural and Agricultural Zone: total 4.85 million Rai (-8.13%) in 3 subcategories: Rural Community Areas (light yellow) 2.07 million Rai; Agriculture Promotion Areas (light green) 1.1 million Rai; Designated Agricultural Land Reform Areas (yellow with green stripes) 1.66 million Rai mostly on the eastern side of EEC.
  4. Natural Resources and Environment Conservation Zone: total 1.67 million Rai (increased by 2.93% for this type of land use)

 

This report was supported by Earth Journalism Network, Thai Society of Environmental Journalist, and Thai Journalists Association.

You can read the original article in Thai here:  บางปะกง (กรรม) EEC จาก ‘พื้นที่สีเขียว’ สู่ ‘ลำธารอุตสาหกรรม’